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How Democracies Revive

April 28, 2022

In 2022, it is no longer difficult to envision the downfall of American democracy. To a growing number of commentators and analysts, this demise almost feels inevitable. If "January 6 was practice" for an authoritarian takeover (as the headline of a December Atlantic article warned us), next time could be for real.This essay makes the case for resisting the prevailing pessimism. While the threats are obviously real, the prevailing zeitgeist of a downward spiral should, counter-intuitively, be seen as a sign for optimism. Before we can rebuild our democracy, we first have to acknowledge that it is, in fact, falling apart. And we are indeed starting to realize this―hence the pervasive panic, that repeated prerequisite for reform. This is why I am ultimately optimistic. And why you should be, too.In this essay, I will seek out some lessons from history that should inform our optimism. Though much is unique about our current impasse, much is also familiar. All democracies have ups and downs. American democracy has had ups and downs. We are in a "down." And some "downs" last a long time. But they never last forever. Thus, the first lesson of history―"the inevitability of course change"―is perhaps the most obvious. Each generation is a reaction to the previous generation.But if the first lesson of history seems obvious, we keep forgetting it. Thus, the second lesson is "the illusion of course continuation." That is, just as course change is inevitable, so is it almost equally inevitable that we forget this, and delude ourselves into thinking we have somehow escaped the broader patterns of history.Time and again, we mistakenly predict that we have reached some new stage that will somehow last for centuries (e.g., we are at the "End of x" or "This time is really different" or Yale economist Irving Fisher's September 1929 conclusion that "stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau"). Time and again, we mistakenly make straight-line projections about markets or demographics or politics, assuming that whatever trends have led us to this moment, they will continue indefinitely. But they never do.

The Role of the U.S. Government in the Law Enforcement Response to Protests

April 28, 2022

Policing protests requires law enforcement to accomplish two primary goals that are sometimes in tension with one another: protecting the constitutional right of free speech and assembly and preserving public safety. Law enforcement agencies are expected to apply proportional and impartial strategies and tactics to accomplish both imperatives. The law enforcement response to protests is primarily a local function in the United States, but the federal government plays two key roles in shaping that response, one direct and one indirect. The principal direct role involves federal law enforcement agencies responding to protests on federal property, in and around federal buildings, and when called on to provide mutual aid or other forms of assistance in communities. The principal indirect role involves training state and local police on how to handle protests and other crowd events. Several crowd policing events in the past two years have revealed related deficiencies in the manner by which federal agencies fulfill these two roles. To remedy deficiencies in its response to protests and similar crowd events, the federal government should conduct a comprehensive review of the relevant training and policies of every federal agency that engages in crowd control, crowd management, or the response to civil disturbances. That review should focus on the extent to which the training and policies are consistent with current research evidence and best practices. The federal government should also work with researchers to begin testing and evaluating changes to training, policies, and operations. This will involve carrying out honest after-action reviews that seek to identify which approaches worked well and which ones require further adjustments. In following these steps, the federal government can take a leadership role in adopting, testing, refining, and modeling evidence-based practices for handling crowd events in the most judicious and effective manner. 

Recommendations for the Upcoming U.S. Private Sponsorship Pilot for Refugees

March 15, 2022

As the U.S. Department of State draws closer to launching a private sponsorship pilot program for refugees, as stated in the President's Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2022, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Community Sponsorship Hub (CSH), and the Niskanen Center offer recommendations for the program's design.

Local Beats, National Consequences: The Link Between Local News and American Democratic Health

October 12, 2021

Shifts in the media landscape in recent decades have left an increasing number of Americans living in "news deserts," or counties without a local paper. Since 2004, approximately 2,100 newspapers — nearly one in four — have gone out of print, leaving well over 1,300 communities without local news outlets. Hundreds more have reduced their coverage to the point that they've become what researchers characterize as "ghost newspapers" – papers that cling to life but are too financially hobbled to serve any worthwhile democratic function. Nearly all of the others have scaled back as well, just not as far. This trend has certainly been consequential for these local communities, but the decline of local news nationwide has also deprived American democracy of one of its key support structures, and it has fueled the nationalization and, by extension, polarization, of our politics. Finding a way to revitalize local media could be a big part of the solution to revitalizing our politics.